Scientists learned that ancient super-predators could have taken down mega-herbivores that weighed between 1 to 2 tons. Each of these super-predators was probably able to kill a 5-year-old mastodon by itself. Moreover, when they gathered in packs the animals would have terminated a 9-year-old mastodon that weighed up to 2 tons.
Or at least that’s what state-of-the art computer models suggest. Study authors were curious to learn how big the prey of ancient hypercarnivores was. They knew that these ferocious animals including the cave hyena and saber-toothed cat fed on mega-herbivores, but they didn’t know how large they were.
The models showed that these carnivores, which were significantly larger than modern-day lions, tigers and hyenas, hunted mammoths, mastodons, and giant sloths. Researchers explained that these predators kept in check the large herbivores and prevented the destabilization of ecosystems.
We know that large herbivores including elephants can destabilize ecosystems when they overgraze. And, other researchers weren’t able to tell what prevented an ecological disaster during the Pleistocene era, where herbivores were a lot larger and had a greater appetite than their modern-day counterparts. In those times larger herbivores including mastodons of 1,760 lbs walked freely on Earth.
Despite today’s megaherbivores including elephants being largely immune to natural predators, herbivores in ancient times met their match in hyper-carnivores. These predators probably did limit the numbers of herbivores roaming on the planet.
Scientists explained that past research was unable to asses the impact hyper-carnivores like the saber tooth cat or the cave hyena had on megaherbivores because they do not have an equivalent today, like herbivores have.
But the team believes that in ancient times there were more predators than we see today, many of which had an impressive size. The team thinks that the diversity of predators pushed them to fiercely compete one against the other forcing some animals to specialize in hunting megaherbivores.
In their study, researchers analyzed the fossils of Pleistocene predators that weighed between 211 and 297 lbs. These animals’ modern analogues weigh between 116 and 138 lbs.
“Scientists didn’t really understand how much bigger some of these Pleistocene predators were than modern ones,”
said Blaire Van Valkenburgh, lead author of the study from the University of California.
Van Valkenburgh, however, admitted that his team assessed the super-sized predators’ size by analyzing a single molar. He explained that in the fossil record, scientists often reconstruct animals from their teeth or a single tooth.
Next, they estimated hyper-herbivores’ size by analyzing modern elephants’ shoulder height to body mass ratio.
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